Photo Credit: Kadeem Rogers @kadeemro
Why I Left Corporate America And Opened My Dream Restaurant In A Cave In Jamaica
When Danielle moved back home to Jamaica, things slowly started falling into place so that she could follow the path that felt most natural and true to what she could offer the community. Learning quickly that the corporate world wasn’t for her, she set out to launch The Plantry— an eco-friendly, plant-based restaurant in a cave.
With an uncompromised focus on ethical and sustainable practices, The Plantry “makes veggies taste good AF”, without overly marketing itself as vegan, preferring to lure people in with curiosity. The restaurant offers a unique dining experience and its inception has an equally paralleled surreal backstory.
Danielle tells Travel Noire all about the journey and the reality of running a restaurant in a cave on Jamaica’s south coast.
Travel Noire: Tell us about yourself.
Danielle: I’m Danielle, a born and bred Jamaican. I’m from Port Antonio, which is in the Northeast coast of the island. I literally grew up on the Blue Lagoon, our house even overlooks it. It’s funny because I grew up somewhere that is lush and green and really wet. If you’ve been to Port Antonio, you’ll know it’s always raining, and now I live on the south coast. It’s a bit drier here, I often describe it as Jamaica’s Tulum.
I did initially follow that path and worked corporate, but it just didn’t quite click for me. I always felt this calling to go home and at the first opportunity to do that, I returned. I’ve been back in Jamaica since 2017. In that time, I’ve created two brands and built a really wonderful community of people who love and trust the things that I do.
Travel Noire: Could you talk to us about what prompted you to make the move back to Jamaica?
Danielle: I was about three weeks into my master’s program. I was doing an MBA, and I came to Jamaica to update my paperwork, and I just decided to stay. I let my phone die. I would rest and wake up at sunrise, go to the beach and just relax, reconnecting with being home because I’d wanted to do it for so many years and didn’t have the opportunity.
I did that for a couple of months, and then I needed to get back to work. So I started working corporate again in Jamaica, and I realized very quickly that it wasn’t corporate America I had an issue with, it was just the institution of the corporate world itself. So I quit my job. I moved to Kingston, where all the creatives are. I remember waking up thinking people would kill for your job, why did you do this? I remember the days so keenly because I called one of my closest friends for support.
With the help of those close friends, I realized that I’m supposed to be doing the things that bring me the most joy. In the past three years I’ve completed two fellowships, I’ve gained two grants, and I’m about to gain my third and everything’s just come together so beautifully.
Travel Noire: In terms of your personal journey with returning to Jamaica as a repat, how was that for you?
Danielle: Really interesting. I think my only saving grace is that I grew up here as a teenager. I was 17 when I left Jamaica, and I still have friends here from boarding school. Even still, for a while I felt like an outsider, which really didn’t feel good because I chose to be home and I wanted to be here. Every day I wake up and I choose Jamaica. I travel to other places, and they’re beautiful, but I always return to Jamaica, because I absolutely love it here. At the same time, because of how I sound, there are people who will look at me and go ‘no, you’re not Jamaican. Just the way you behave is not Jamaican‘ and I guess on some level it is true.
But what’s beautiful is that there’s a new wave of Jamaicans who are becoming more open and more progressive. They’re realizing that the old structures are not working, so they’re open to progressive ways to conduct business to build communities.
Travel Noire: It must be nice to be an active part of that community building with your restaurant. Could you tell us more about The Plantry?
Danielle: Yes, when I moved here to the south coast last November, I was staying at a cottage by the beach. A friend of mine owned the place and allowed me to let my imagination run wild when I asked to rent the space. I brought my construction guys from Port Antonio, and they started on November 17th and finished construction by January 7th. I sat on it for a while, but I realized that perfectionism probably wasn’t the way forward, I would always find a reason to put off the opening.
Since launching, people have enjoyed the cave-dining experience. We’ve had Jamaicans from across the island come to the restaurant including local artists, Protoje, Naomi Campbell and more. People seem to enjoy the hidden garden, bougie dining experience. Also, each dining experience is customized and so often each client has a different menu, even if they arrive on the same day.
Travel Noire: It sounds super original in Jamaica and beyond.
Danielle: Caves are vortexes and they transmute energy. The reception across the board has been that people just feel healed, at peace, relaxed. You feel that breeze coming down from the opening at the top of the cave and flowing throughout the restaurant. The hummingbirds come down and go past you, it’s truly beautiful.
When I first moved to Jamaica there weren’t many plant-based, eco-friendly restaurants and I wanted to be a part of changing that. Jamaica has a lot to offer, especially from a culinary perspective, and I really wanted to showcase that in a new way.
Travel Noire: How would you say The Plantry is being received?
Danielle: I would say the reception was always genuine inquiry. That’s why the tagline is ‘Stay Curious’. When we shifted from desserts into food, we offered one weekly special, and the first thing we ever offered was prickly pear cactus. It grows wild all over Jamaica and in Mexico too.
I wanted to use something that every Jamaican who sees or hears of it would know what it is, but maybe not know that they could eat it or eat it in the way that I was making it. People loved it so much that it sold out. It was also my first time on national television. I was talking about the lunch offering and the day it went up, it sold out. We also had an OG Jamaican influencer visit and share a post on Instagram, and that helped to blow-up our following. All of our clients have come because of a referral and I really love that.
Travel Noire: In terms of your two brands that you’ve developed while on Jamaican soil, The Plantry and Hmgrwn, how would you differentiate them?
Danielle: I think that Hmgrwn is a celebration of all things Jamaican, and it is the umbrella that houses The Plantry and all the other smaller brands that I have created. Hmgrwn is what goes on the outside (skincare and natural beauty) and The Plantry is what nourishes the inside (eco-friendly, plant-based dining). So it’s a full-frontal ethical and sustainable consumption while taking care of the consumer thoroughly.